Great Expectations–The Chapters That Did NOT Get Written

I had such big plans.  Almost an entire month by myself at our “new” (1895) cottage just up the hill from Lake Chautauqua in Western NY.  Chautauqua Institution is a historic community, once a camp for Methodist Sunday School teachers and now a renowned cultural community with a nine week season of music, lectures, theater and much, much more.  We’ve been coming here for years to recharge for a week or two each summer, but this is the first time we’ve had the luxury of coming off season.  I planned to “open” the cottage, figure out what to keep and how to organize what was left, then write, write, write.  I thought with all this peace and quiet, I could manage perhaps as many as two rough draft chapters every three days.

In my weeks here I’ve written three chapters. 

Finding the time to write, every writers dilemma.  How can this be as difficult as I’m making it?  After all, you just sit down, turn on the computer or pull out the yellow legal pad and magic pen and away you go. 


Writing demands complete concentration.  For me, that comes at a price, usually hours at the computer before I can really sink into the book and detail what I see.  When I’m lucky enough to reach that stage, pages fly by.  If I’m interrupted during this warm-up, often I never quite reach that point where the writing flows.  I struggle over sentences, and while I usually have something to show for the effort, every word is hard won.

Sometimes, though, interruptions are more fun than the alternative.  A lot more fun.  In my weeks here I’ve watched our little house achieve some kind of order, and supervised needed repairs and changes.  I landscaped the front garden and found a helper to do some of the dirty work.  I accepted a plot in the community garden and today will finish planting my tomatoes.  I attended two concerts, met scores of wonderful people, most who generously invited me for meals or porch socializing.  I took walks and field trips, shopped at the incredible Wegman’s grocery store, and discovered that the local Dollar General has almost anything I could ever need. Who knew?

I discovered that dinner parties in my tiny kitchen will have to be planned carefully and executed in stages, and while I was at it I was reminded that friends don’t care, even when the chicken takes forever to cook.  I found that early June can be cold in Western NY, and that a warm dog in a lap is almost as good as a heater–but that doesn’t mean a few baseboard units wouldn’t be a welcome addition in the future.  Nemo and I took frequent walks each day, watching the community come alive and enjoying the sun sparkling on our gorgeous blue lake.  I said hello to a hundred strangers who all said hello in return.

Sometimes the best laid plans go astray.  Mine certainly did.  What does this mean exactly?  Well, in my case, it means I’ll have to write in August when I’d hoped not to.  But that’s a price easily paid for the fun I’ve had.  I’m looking forward to sinking back into my book and reuniting with my characters. 

I had great expectations for my time here, but the reality was even better.  Sometimes it’s important to let go of expectations, to see what transpires without them.  Some of  life’s finest gifts arrive that way.  My gift this past month was making new friends and learning to appreciate this remarkable community in a whole new way.   I just bet, in the long run, Tracy, Wanda, Janya and Alice will all be better off for it when I settle in, once again, to tell their story.


  1. Christina Hollis on June 19, 2010 at 2:01 am

    You cottage sounds idyllic, Emilie. It’s no wonder you find it difficult to settle. It’s a place to draw in inspiration – enjoy it, and let the writing come when it will!

  2. PattyAnneQuilts on June 19, 2010 at 9:25 am

    We had the good fortune to be at Lake Chautauqua about eight years ago for a family reunion. Super wonderful space. So glad you are enjoying it. Sharing your writing experience is so inspiring. I have purchased Happiness Key and am waiting to read it when I go on vacation in July. We are forunate to spend two weeks in Fairhope, AL, a slice of heaven on earth that restores my batteries for the whole next year. Enjoy the rest of your vacation and as always thanks for sharing!

  3. Debbie Haupt on June 22, 2010 at 10:56 am

    Ah, but isn’t it great when life gets in the way of expectations. It’s like a gift.

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